Can Authors Survive the Boycott Against U.K. Book Festivals?

Protests break out against Hay and Edinburgh’s literary festivals. Authors must choose declining between book sales or standing with “morally wrong” sponsors.

Book Culture Book News
People browsing through books at a book festival

Oftentimes, authors promote their books by touring book festivals around the country or even the world. What happens when book festivals begin to disappear? We may get our answer due to the protests against these popular U.K. book festivals.

Activism is important in not only our culture but also around the world. Boycotts and protests have led us to significant changes dealing with human rights, economic situations, and political affairs. While activism typically results in positive reformations, it can also inflict a negative chain reaction. The Hay and Edinburgh literary festivals are facing the wrath of activists in the U.K., which may result in declining book sales for both established and new authors.

What Caused the Protests?

All festivals require sponsorship in order to financially cover the events and promotions. The Hay and Edinburgh book festivals are no different. Both share a major sponsor — Baillie Gifford, an asset management company that is thought to be linked to fossil fuel investments and commercial dealings with Israel.

Pro-Palestine activists worry that associating with Baillie Gifford, even indirectly, could not only hinder their reputation but also go against their moral beliefs. Similarly, protesters strive to decrease climate change by speaking out against companies that invest in fossil fuel production.

Crowd at Hay Literary Festival
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Recently, the boycott arrived at Hay’s doorstep when activists, including Charlotte Church (singer), Nish Kumar (comedian), and Dawn Butler (Labour MP), gave the literary festival an ultimatum: suspend Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship or lose valuable community support. Hay obliged their request and suspended the sponsorship.

This same situation happened a year ago in Edinburgh when multiple famous authors signed an open letter for the literary festival to expel Baillie Gifford as their sponsor. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg refused to make an appearance at the festival due to a connection with the controversial company. Like Hay, Edinburgh obliged to their request.

How Does This Affect Authors?

As I said, many authors rely on these tours to promote their books to the public. Book festivals are ideal for advertisement as they pull in a large group of locals and travelers in one area. Thus, authors don’t have to worry if people will show up to a venue they rented or depend on online promotions alone.

However, when a festival cuts off its highest-paying sponsor, its financial situation can get a bit unsteady. Without sufficient money, literary festivals can’t pay for special guests, rented areas, or vendors that bring in people. If Hay and Edinburgh cannot find new sponsors, the festivals could either decrease in size or disappear altogether.

Author signing book at Edinburgh Literary Festival
IMAGE VIA FLICKR.COM

This puts authors in a bind, particularly new authors. Seasoned writers already have an established fanbase and an upstanding portfolio that increases their sales, but what happens when an author is trying to promote their debut novel? There is already a limited amount of space for authors at these festivals, so decreasing the size would really put them in a bind. They could promote their books on the internet; however, the competition is even more difficult since everyone is using online advertisements.

Either way, the circumstance is a double-edged sword. Authors are now put in a position where they have to either be associated with a company they believe to be morally wrong or possibly lose book sales that pay their bills. It is an argument of which is better of the two evils.

It is hard to tell what will become of the two largest literary festivals in the U.K. since the situation is so fresh. The greatest outcome would be for Hays and Edinburgh to find new sponsors and continue the festivals. However, it is possible that these protests will be the end of the tradition promoting new and popular writers. Only time will tell the fate of the literary world.


Discover literary festivals around the world here.

Curious about the Israel and Palestine conflict? Browse books on the subject with our Israel and Palestine: Shared Literature on a Complicated Conflict bookshelf on Bookshop.org.

FEATURED IMAGE VIA BOOKSTR / MORGAN WILSON